WordSmith: A friendship borne on a Christmas morn

- Gerard Smith -

For me as a child, Cavan was a place full of summer holiday fun, wherein I was free of school and Manchester City restraints. Then all of a sudden I lived here, and I saw the place in winter for the first time. It was a bleak awakening.

But, I found brightness in an Aladdin’s Cave – a shop called Connolly Brothers. Entering the shop was a multi-sensory experience, it smelled of sweet perfumes, sparkled with myriad trinkets; and as you traversed its treasure-filled shelves, you arrived at the jewel in its crown – the toy shop.

This was my first Christmas in Cavan and given I was 12, Santy no longer delivered to my door. Mam said I could choose one present from Connolly Brothers. She gave me a budget, and after school I’d enter: consider, and cross one potential present off my list. Soon I arrived at my top two. 1: Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces, a creepy looking bald man-puppet whose appearance you altered with disguises. 2: SuperCopter, a helicopter that delivered pipes to a cardboard oil rig. It was a tough decision, but as my deadline loomed, I decided on the copter. What edged it for me was a flash on the box that asked: ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO FLY SUPERCOPTER?

I wanted to find out if I was. So, I duly delivered the info to Mam, and looked forward to my Christmas morning man-challenge.

The big day arrived and I diligently prepared for my test. Dad was on dinner prep in the kitchen. Mam supervised my copter assemblage from her armchair. With assembly successful, I readied for my inaugural mission to hook up the pipes from a strategically placed ashtray, fly them to, and drop them off at the cardboard oil rig positioned on a cushion, which acted as the Pacific Ocean.

I was anxious, “Mam, stop looking at me, you’re making me nervous,” I implored. She lit a cigarette, “Don’t be, I’ll be your co-pilot,” she chuckled, as I took the controls. It was a tense mission. But with my skill and Mam’s guidance, I made it. I jumped up and fist pumped, “Yes, I’m man enough to fly SuperCopter!”

Mam stubbed out her cigarette, “Let me have a go.” She joined me on the floor and took the controls. She was successful on her second mission.

Mam worked day and night, my time with her was rare. That Christmas morning was quality; our mother and son roles fell away and we became friends playing with a helicopter.

Then all too soon I was a man; a Creative Director in a London Ad Agency. A position that chipped away at me revealing an ever-increasing cynic, a man I didn’t like.

One Monday morning I was preparing a presentation for an important contract when I was called to the boardroom. Therein, I took a call from my sister, “Mam’s dead!” she said. My immediate response was an outward corporate calm; whilst inwardly I flailed between fulfilling my professional obligations and flying towards my personal duty. Of course, when my shock subsided – I flew home.

A month later, and my siblings and I were returning to sort out Mam’s things and attend the anniversary Mass. I arrived first and went to the bedroom. Opening the wardrobe, I was enveloped in her fragrance; our sense of smell prompts memory like no other.

The top shelf was where she kept her jumpers, and the things she cosseted most: wedding album, jewellery box, and letters from her mother. Wanting a piece of her jewellery as a keepsake, I began removing her jumpers to find the box.

Instead I found a forgotten box, the sight of which transported me back to a Christmas morning long past. I stepped back and smiled misty-eyed, it was my SuperCopter. Mam had added my old toy to her wardrobe treasures.

I opened the box, sensing it contained more than a battery operated helicopter. It did – it held a mother’s memory of a precious hour spent with her son on Christmas morning; her final chance to play with the child before his tumultuous teenage years would catapult him towards manhood and away from her.

Many Mammies treasure a child’s toy, although I suspect they’re more cuddly than a plastic helicopter.


WordSmith: The friends we have when we’re twelve